President Muhammadu Buhari’s letter that conveyed the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day in Nigeria contained an offensive line which surprisingly many Nigerians have chosen to ignore. Without any provocation, the President had undertaken a comparison of June 12 and October 1, and came up with the verdict that June 12 is a more important date than October 1, a day normally set aside for the celebration of self-rule in Nigeria.
Many activists and critics have focused on the celebration of the national recognition of Abiola and have given little or no thought to the inexplicable denigration of October 1 as contained in the President’s Speech. For the avoidance of doubt, October 1 remains the most important date in the life of our nation. In the world of dates, it can be regarded as the grandfather of June 12. I say this bearing in mind that without the event which October 1 celebrates, there would not be any election for Abiola to contest.
The colonial rule which October 1 deposed was one that did not admit any Nigerian into the position of leadership in the country. The best Nigerians had was leadership of trade unions and activist groups. Political leadership, at that time, was the exclusive preserve of the white men. To make matters worse, Nigerians were not even allowed to elect or select that particular white man that would govern them. He was always chosen and anointed in London and then sent down here to control all of us. From the manner in which he was appointed, it was clear that the colonial leader was never there for our interest. He served the queen and forced us to pray God to save the queen. No care was taken of our salvation. We could as well rot in hell. And colonial rule was hell.
October 1 changed all that. It was a date in which we stood with the rest of the world like men and as equals. It was a date that set us free and restored our dignity as a people. It inspired optimism and imbued our people with the legendary I Can Do Spirit with which we are known around the world. This date ought to remain the most important date in Nigeria’s history. The president’s speech that it is no more so changes nothing. This is because the meaning that October 1 holds for us as Nigerians is in our heart and cannot be legislated by any president.
Perhaps, the president was emboldened by our silence on the low key event which his administration and the one before him have reduced our independence day to make his pronouncement regarding October 1. In the recent time, we have seen presidents comparing how much money they did not spend for the Independence Day celebration. To show that the government is frugal, traditional activities that we associate with this day are jettisoned. The most we get now are only agrudgingly given presidential speech and a public holiday that is visibly under threat.
With this, I can guarantee that we are systematically raising a generation for whom October 1 will have no meaning at all. As a nation bedevilled by all sorts of division, such unifying dates as October 1 should be over emphasised and promoted. It should be a rallying point for the promotion of national unity and celebration of national pride. It is bad how men in government think that these things no longer hold any importance to us as a people.
Yes, the recognition given to Abiola and June 12 is alright but it is a recognition for which we do not want to sacrifice October 1. June 12 is an important date in Nigeria’s political history but it is not more important than October 1. And indeed, the two dates can exist without one being more important. I have no explanation for why the president is caught in the Nigerian practice of dualistic understanding of the world. Such understanding bifurcates the world and gives us such terms like good and bad; important and unimportant; us and them; among others. This type of bifurcation is responsible for many of the crisis we have in the world today.